(Written by Jimmy Webb)
Jimmy Webb, who later found much greater fame as a singer, songwriter and producer away from Motown, got his start in the industry by demoing this song to Frank Wilson at the Motown LA office; Wilson saw the young writer’s potential and signed him up, and so This Time Last Summer duly became the first Webb song to be released on a Motown 45, the début (and, as it turned out, only) single by one Danny Day.
I know it’s a good song, because I was already familiar with the (excellent) version by Blinky from 1970, which uses the exact same string-laden proto-Philly backing track and still manages to sound bang up to date; she managed to tease out so much of the beauty and pain in Webb’s song that it quickly became a favourite of mine. So, when I cued up Day’s version, I had the advantage of knowing what the song was meant to sound like. But Danny, who absolutely cannot sing, ruins it beyond any hope of salvation.
So, I’d written Danny’s awful performance off as the inept squeakings of a tenth-rate Four Seasons tribute act, a man who’d ruined a perfectly good song with a dreadful lead vocal; the only mystery was why Motown had released it in the first place. But on doing the research, it turns out Danny Day is a pseudonym for the great Hal Davis, head of Motown’s West Coast operations and a brilliant writer and producer in his own right. Not only that, but this wasn’t even Davis’ first attempt at “singing” – he had a whole load of performer credits under his belt by the time he came to tackle this.
Like I said… Huh.
We’re up to almost 600 reviews now on Motown Junkies, and I thought the days of half-arsed one-shot favour deals like this getting through Quality Control were behind us. Apparently not.
I feel confident in saying that Hal Davis, as Danny Day, is comfortably the worst singer we’ve encountered in four years’ worth of Motown singles. Not since the days of the Contours’ appalling Funny (a horrific attempt by everyone’s favourite raucous rockers at a spine-tingling doo-wop harmony ballad), and white radio DJ Joel Sebastian (who had a singing voice like a drunken corncrake), has a vocal performance this awful been passed for release.
I actually had “Danny” tabbed as a random white guy when I first heard this, assuming his astonishingly poorly-judged attempts to leap the entire scale in one bound (on the word SEASONS!, for instance), ending up so far outside his range he’s quite literally screaming, were him going for a Four Seasons (do you see?) falsetto vibe. But the effect is less Frankie Valli, and more one of the Bee Gees with their testicles trapped in a door.
To discover it’s actually by an all-time Motown great like Hal Davis is like discovering Joel Sebastian was really Brian Holland or something. But I’m not going to start re-evaluating this record in the light of this new information; it’s still almost hilariously unlistenable.
(Penny for co-producer Marc Gordon’s thoughts when this was being played back in the booth. Davis and Gordon produced so many amazing records together, and their working relationship was super-important, important enough for someone to smile and nod right the way through while listening to the playback of his friend’s vocal track here… but it surely can’t have been a comfortable experience.)
I’m loath to give it the lowest possible mark, just because I really like the (beautiful) song, and I really like Hal Davis when he’s not singing. But this is just some guy doing piss-poor karaoke; it’s a genuinely godawful record and there’s no excuse for it at all.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Danny Day? Click for more.)
“Tomorrow May Never Come”
“Please Don’t Turn The Lights Out”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.